Monday, March 18, 2013

Fate, Free Will and The Planetary Powers


In one of the ancient Greek Creation Myths, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, created the seven planetary powers, and set a Titan and Titaness over each.

So how do we take that as astrologers? These days we tend to say the planets do not cause events to happen, only naïve people think that, we are more sophisticated. Rather, it is a matter of synchronicity, the cycles of the planets reflecting cycles in human affairs.

But it seems that in ancient times the planets really were powers, and I think as astrologers we feel that too, that is why we are astrologers. We feel the powers of the planets just as the ancients did, and it is therefore not quite right for us to say that the planets do not cause events.

Of course the planets influence human affairs, we kind of know that and feel that, let’s be honest about it. It just leaves us in a bit of tricky position when facing the modern ‘rational’ scientific way of looking at the universe. How could a lump of rock millions of miles away be influencing human affairs?

But a planet is only a lump of rock when viewed through our Earth and Air faculties: the Earth faculty only sees physical evidence, discernible through the 5 physical senses. And the Air faculty then creates theories based on that evidence. Where does that leave Fire and Water,  our ability to know and feel the power of the planets?

I think it is important we do not make concessions to modern ‘rationality’, which is not rationality at all. Rationality comes from the word ratio, and is connected to ration. It is about proportionality, seeing things in a balanced way, every element having its say. Modern ‘rationality’, which often considers only Earth and Air to be means of knowledge, is not balanced at all. It is for naïve people who take the world at face value, who believe that only what comes in through the 5 senses is real, that there is not a deeper less obvious dimension which is actually the source of everything we experience.
Ad Break: I offer webcam astrology readings (£20 per ½ hour). Contact: Dharmaruci71(at) I’ll be travelling in Canada and the USA this year doing readings and talks – if you’d like me to drop by, let me know!

Blake: The Sun at his Eastern Gates
From William Blake’s Vision of the Last Judgement:

"What it will be Questiond When the Sun rises  do  you  not  see  a  round  Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?

O no no I see an Innumerable company of the
Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight, I look thro it & not with it.”

There you have it. Blake experienced the power of the Sun just like we do. And he looks through his eyes, not with them. We are not the window, we are the observer standing behind it.

So where does this leave our precious Free Will, if the planets cause events?

I think the argument about Fate versus Free Will is mainly an argument between medieval Christianity and what came afterwards, the so-called ‘Enlightenment’. A swing from a one-sided emphasis on faith and tradition to an equally one-sided emphasis on human reason. And a division of the world into ‘inner and outer’. Either we are acting or being acted upon. Free Will or Fate.

I don’t think that the planetary powers acting on human affairs makes us simply creatures of Fate in the modern sense. I think it’s more that the Universe is ensouled, in a sense it is one big soul of which we are a part. Everything is a part of, and affects, everything else.

So the planets as gods are not external forces acting on us in the sense of something completely separate from us. But they are not the same as us either. It’s a different way of thinking which I suspect is closer to how the Greeks would have experienced their gods.

In a sense they ARE separate, they need to be honoured, considered, listened to. But they are also intimately bound up with who we are and our destiny. Yes, we have a destiny, the future in a sense is all laid out before us. And we are living according to nature, which as Jung said is the best way to live, if we let the gods lead us there and let ourselves be dragged through whatever we need to be dragged through in order to learn a few things. But it’s also our choice to go there. And there are consequences if we choose not to go there. If, in other words, we ignore the gods. Like Odysseus who, inflated with his military success after the Trojan war, thought he did not need to propitiate Neptune for his sea journey home. And so it took him 10 years.

This way of thinking is, I think, a necessary consequence of being an astrologer, because as I said at the start, we are astrologers because we feel the power of the planets. That is our starting point for the way we see the universe, that there are these planetary powers that influence ourselves and the rest of humanity. Then we have to ‘go figure’!

I like the idea of Fate, of a pre-existing pattern to our life – well what is a birth chart if not that? Fate gives me a sense of a power and a meaning in the universe. We can’t just be whatever we choose to be, that is a modern delusion. But there is something there for us if we allow the gods to show us the way.

The Three Fates
In ancient Greece there were 3 female Fates: Clotho, who spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle; Lachesis, who measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod; and Atropos, who was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of each person's death; and when their time was come, she cut their life-thread with "her abhorred shears."

In the Republic of Plato,  Lachesis sings the things that were, Clotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be.

In Norse mythology, there are numerous Fates or Norns (again, female) the 3 most important of whom are Urðr (Wyrd), Verðandi and Skuld, whose names also refer respectively to the past, present and future. They live in a hall by the Well of Fate, from which they draw water, and they take sand from around it, which they pour on Ygdrassil, the World Tree, so that its branches do not rot. They are “maidens deep in knowledge” and choose lives for the children of mankind.

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Friday, March 15, 2013


Each of the zodiac signs has a deeper nature to unfold. But Gemini has puzzled me for a while. Who are Geminis trying to become, what is their deeper nature? Mercury-ruled Gemini has a glittering surface, but what is underneath? We know that Gemini  is the light twin and the dark twin, so there is something there in the dark twin, something weightier.

I think the answer is probably somewhere in the character of Mercury, or Hermes. Amongst other things the god Mercury is the guide to the Underworld, and rules divination. He is also a trickster. And he is the messenger of the gods. So there are these connections to something Other, to the Unconscious, to the outer planets.

Famous Gemini: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. Asked if he had ever tried cocaine he said yes, but I sneezed. Compare that to Bill Clinton who, asked if he had ever smoked weed said yes, but I didn’t inhale. Spot the Gemini. Boris Johnson as usual clowns his way out of a situation that would be a serious reputational issue for most politicians, and gives it a Gemini twist. Because he has turned it into a joke, he can’t be accused of lying. And in so doing he legitimises a taboo subject, allows the truth to come out, which is yes of course we politicians have taken drugs of some sort, just like everyone else has.

Italy is a Gemini nation. The only leader of a lasting government since the war  has been Silvio Berlusconi (who has Gemini  at the top of his chart, which is how the world sees you). He does openly what many other people in positions of power would do secretly. He controls the media through owning them, he bribes, he evades tax,  he engages in illegal wiretaps, he invites underage prostitutes to sex parties. He is continually prosecuted while Prime Minister, always eventually wriggles out of it, and the Italians have by and large loved him for it.

You could say that Gemini-Sagittarius is the axis of Truth. And that Gemini acts as a counter-balance to the Sagittarian gaze at the heavens; his dark twin/Mercury brings in less comfortable truths. But he tricks and charms us into that awareness. In 1996 I had a dream telling me to set up a particular Buddhist organisation, so I did, and it worked very well for a while. And then I ran into a power struggle with those who considered themselves above me, and before I knew it I was off on an entirely different life, much more my own life. So that was Mercury as trickster (Uranus, another trickster, was conjunct my Mercury in 1996!), guiding me to Pluto’s Underworld and a necessary transformation, but I would never have done it if I’d known in advance what was going to happen.

So I think Mercury is so much more than the way our mind works and the way we communicate. He is easy to overlook in a reading if he is in the same sign as the Sun. And Mercury-ruled Geminis seem to embody well this aspect. They seem on the one hand to be the most superficial of signs, but that’s all a show: their presence beguiles and tricks us into an awareness of the shadow, of the parts of ourselves and of life that we’d rather ignore.
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Mythologically, Mercury/Hermes was the son of Maia, a mountain nymph, and Zeus. After he was born he grew at astonishing speed into a young boy and, as soon as his mother’s back was turned, he was off in search of adventure.

He arrived at Pieria, where Apollo was tending a fine herd of cows, and he decided to steal them. He knew they could be traced by their tracks, so he made a number of shoes out of bark and tied them with grass to the feet of the cows – and he put them on backwards, so they looked like they were going in the opposite direction. Hermes drove the cows away at night. Apollo was taken in by the deception, and couldn’t find his cows anywhere. So he offered a reward for their return. Silenus and his Satyrs wanted the reward, so they searched for a long time, until one day some of them were passing through Arcadia and heard the sound of music coming from a cave, music like they’d never heard before.

The nymph Cyllene told them that the music was being played by a boy who she was nursing, because he had lulled his mother to sleep with the music. And that, ingeniously, the boy had made the instrument out of a tortoise shell and cow-gut. The satyrs ears pricked up. “And from where did he get the cow-gut?” they asked. “Are you accusing the boy of theft?” she replied. Harsh words were exchanged. Then Apollo turned up, having divined the identity of the thief from a long-winged bird. He recognised a couple of cow-hides stretched out nearby, and woke Maia, Hermes’ mother, and accused her son of theft. “That’s absurd,” she said, “Look at him lying there in his swaddling clothes, how could he have?”

But Apollo had seen enough and took Hermes off to Mount Olympus to be judged by Zeus, the king of the gods. Hermes denied the theft, Zeus as his father believed him, but Apollo would not back down, and eventually Hermes weakened and confessed to the theft. “Very well, you can have your cows back,” he said, “All except the two that I sacrificed to the 12 gods.”

“12?” said Zeus. “Yes, I’m a god as well,” replied Hermes. This was the first flesh sacrifice ever made.

So Apollo and Hermes returned to Mount Cyllene, and there Hermes played such a ravishing tune to his mother on a lyre he had made (inventing the plectrum along the way), with words in praise of Apollo’s nobility and intelligence, that Apollo forgave him at once. He led Apollo to the cows, playing and singing along the way, and Apollo offered to exchange his cows for the lyre. “Agreed”, said Hermes, and they shook hands on it.

Hermes then cut some reeds and made a shepherd’s pipe and played another tune. Apollo, again delighted, offered to exchange the pipe for his golden staff. “My pipe is worth more than that,” said Hermes, “I want you to teach me augury too.” “I can’t do that,” said Apollo, “ but my old nurses, the Thriae, can teach you to divine with pebbles.”

They agreed on this, and returned to Mount Olympus, where Apollo told Zeus all that had happened. As his father, Zeus told Hermes that from now on he must respect the rights of property and refrain from telling downright lies. (Boris Johnson told an outright lie when he called accusations he had had an affair “an inverted pyramid of piffle.”) But Zeus was also amused. “You seem to be a very ingenious, eloquent and persuasive godling,” he said.

“Then make me your herald,” Hermes replied, “and I will be responsible for the safety of all divine property, and never tell lies, though I cannot promise always to tell the whole truth.”

“That would not be expected of you, said Zeus with a smile. “But your duties would include the making of treaties, the promotion of commerce, and the maintenance of free rights of way for travellers on any road in the world.” When Hermes agreed to these conditions, Zeus gave him a herald’s staff with white ribbons, which everyone was ordered to respect; a round hat against the rain, and winged golden sandals which carried him about with the swiftness of wind. He was at once welcomed into the Olympian family, whom he taught the art of making fire by the rapid twirling of the fire-stick.

Hades (Pluto) also engaged him as his herald, to summon the dying gently and eloquently, by laying the golden staff upon their eyes.

Hermes then assisted the 3 Fates in the composition of the alphabet, invented astronomy, the musical scale, the arts of boxing and gymnastics, weights and measures, and the cultivation of the olive tree.

So that is the main story about Hermes from Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths. You can see why he rules Gemini: the quality of youth, the numerous talents, the charm, the dodgy relationship with the truth. And also that more solemn side to him, guiding souls to the Underworld. But also, I think, the Underworld as part of life, and Hermes’ role in beguiling us “to summon the dying gently and eloquently”, to the place of transformation.

And he is not just a myth or an archetype, words which too easily roll off our tongue as we reduce something living to an idea. He is a presence, he is a god, like all the planets, and needs to be honoured. He really is out there, as we are all probably experiencing during the current Mercury Retrograde period. Why do problems surface with my vehicles or computers so regularly during these periods, far more than at other times? It is certainly not for any scientific reason. The only explanation that seems reasonable to me is that yes, there is indeed a god called Mercury out there making this happen.

Yes, making it happen. The planets as gods do make stuff happen. I’m a simple human being, I cannot get my head around synchronicities and mysterious ‘energies’ as explanations. But I can feel and kind of see these gods. I am wary of Hermes, rightfully so. But I know with the right relationship to him, he’s just exposing underlying weaknesses with my vehicles. And when he tricks me into difficult but transformative situations, I know he is trying to help. And if I call on him, he will help me find the right words and to think on my feet.

I think it is hard for us to get our heads around the idea of the gods acting on our lives without experiencing it as a sort of Christian God thing, the capricious almighty in heaven who judges us and determines our fate. We have rightly rebelled against that, but I think we have gone to the other extreme. We have created a world of Free Will, in which mere humans are masters of their destinies, but Fate is there biting us in the backside, telling us we are mere packages of matter ruled by natural laws, no Free Will at all.

The gods are the Fate aspect of our lives, our deliberation and action is the Free Will aspect, and I don’t see them as opposing. You can have gods acting on you without losing any of your own dignity and choice as a human being, in fact I think they go together. This is a whole other subject. But I think it can only be understood through action, through experiencing these ‘archetypal presences’ in which astrology deals, by propitiating them as gods and seeing where it leaves you.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Astrological Multiverse

Astrology portrays a Universe of multiple realities. Particularly if you view the planets as individual presences, as gods. How things look from Pluto’s point of view, for example, is quite different to the Sun’s point of view. Pluto lives in the Underworld, the Sun lives in the sky. Pluto wants us to be true to our instinctual selves and to purge anything inauthentic. The Sun wants us to individuate, to break free from the stifling effect of natural, collective humanity and to reach upwards.

Fundamentalism is the idea that there is only one reality, whether that is Christian, Islamic or Scientific. In the West, fundamentalism came in with Christianity, and we are still in that medieval mind-set, albeit with a different label: the idea that reality is material and there is only one way that it is, you cannot ultimately have competing stories. On the surface, we think we are freeing ourselves from medieval superstition. But when you chuck something out, it has a way of remaining under a different guise. And is not the idea that reality is rational just another superstition?

I once asked a Canadian Indian friend, a story teller, don’t your people get fundamentalist about their Creation Stories? And he said no, because we have a number of contradictory stories! There you have it, and there astrology has it.

All that said, I think we have remarkable freedoms nowadays to live as we want and to think and speak as we want. No-one is forcing us to accept any fundamentalisms, which wasn’t the case a few hundred years ago. I think we need to cherish and value those freedoms, because historically they are rare, and who knows how long they will last? There is no law that says that they will last. So many people in the West, often from the ‘educated, liberal consensus’, seem excessively anti-government these days, they imagine they are being oppressed. Actually, we’ve got it really good when you look, for example, at much of the Middle East.
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And another thing. Not only have we been conditioned for 1000 years and more to believe there is only one reality. We have also been taught to think that unless there is a particular type of explanation for a phenomenon, then that phenomenon is not real. It is the famous ironical example of bees not being able to fly because aerodynamic theory said they couldn’t.

There is no scientific explanation for astrology, for homeopathy, for acupuncture etc etc. , so therefore they do not work. That is the way many people think. But that is not thinking, that is a form of madness. (As the Buddha said, ‘All worldlings are mad’: what seems ‘normal’ is often quite crazy when you stand outside of it. Plato’s Cave is another way of saying the same thing.)

There is no reason I can think of as to why astrology should work. I’m suspicious of any attempts to explain it. I’m forced to live in a world where the main thing I do works for no reason I can fathom, and that has a philosophical consequence. I think it forces me to accept things as they are, to believe my experience, and not take explanations for any phenomenon too seriously. I mean, I love some of those explanations, don’t get me wrong, I love science and I follow it. I think the explanation of how the Sun produces heat through nuclear fusion is great.  But at the end of the day all I see is this hot bright disc that goes round the earth and is about the same size as the Moon. That is what is primary.

If I am going to get into explanations, then my criterion is probably imaginative. Does it appeal to my imagination? If not, then I will discard it, like that dreadful ‘Heat Death’ theory of the ultimate fate of the universe about which Brian Cox waxes so enthusiastically. I like the Big Bang, that’s quite cool, I can accept that. Not that anyone was around to see it, but I’ll be lenient on that one. For the ancient Greeks, there was also nothingness to start with, out of which came Gaia, the Earth, who gave birth to Uranus, the Sky. Uranus fertilised Gaia, out of which the Titans were born. And so on.

I like the tremendous power of the Big Bang theory. And I like the recognisable, concrete imagery of the Greek creation myth. But they are both about something coming out of nothing, and I see no reason to call one fact and the other myth. Give me myth any day. A myth can contain far more truth than a mere fact.

And there is the multi-verse theory which for some scientists seriously contains the notion that different universes may have different physical laws. I like that. We are back to multiple realities.

And back to where I started. I really want to back astrology as an antidote to fundamentalism. I think it has a lot to offer our modern way of thinking, because it works but it has no explanation, and because it sees the universe mythologically, all these gods with their own powers, their own differing realities.

Of course, astrology can easily be turned into another fundamentalism, once you have a canon of knowledge, of accepted meanings, that becomes rigid, and in the hands of the high priests who feel that only they have the right to say what is and is not canonical. And then you start to lose the power behind the planets. And this sort of development is inevitable, because people are people.

I suppose at the end of the day I am talking about something that is living. If something is alive, then you don’t need the sort of discussion I have been having. OF COURSE reality is fluid, with as many viewpoints and stories as there are people, OF COURSE we accept things that work without also needing them ‘proved’ to make them real.

But often a big part of what an astrology reading is about is clarifying the ways we are resisting life and its continuous requirement that we move on, that we change, that we let go of the old. It’s human nature to find change difficult, to stay with the known. And fundamentalism, in a way, is just that tendency writ large. Fundamentalism is always going to be there as a collective tendency, and any wisdom tradition will always have to fight to keep the life flowing through it.

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